Sunday, September 23, 2012

Rise and Shine - Cooking as the Sun Comes Up

There are great pleasures in getting up early and cooking for friends coming for lunch or dinner.
In the summer, getting up as the sun is rising avoids the day's heat. In the winter, I love early morning cooking because the kitchen heats the house with fragrance as baked good come out of the oven and bacon sizzles in the sauté pan.

Before everyone else is awake, the house is quiet. A freshly brewed cup of coffee and NPR's Morning Edition gets me going as I organize my ingredients and pull out the few pots and pans I'll need to make a fun meal.

For a summer brunch, with the weather forecast saying temperatures will top 90 degrees, rising early means the chance to do some light cooking and then spend the rest of the day enjoying the cool of a shaded deck.

Easy-to-make dishes give a big return.
Grilled vegetables, eaten as an appetizer or turned into a simple salad, are light, refreshing and take only a few minutes to prepare.

Or the simplest meal starts with hardboiled eggs cooked in the morning and chilled, then served with remoulade or 1000 island dressing and good cold cuts and cheese.
An omelet takes minutes to make.  Prepared ahead, the fillings can be any combination of sautéed vegetables, meat, fish or poultry with whatever cheese you enjoy.
Gnocchi prepared in the morning, come together with farmers market fresh vegetables or thin slices of prosciutto, dusted with parsley.
A simple baked custard flavored with fresh or cooked fruit, topped with caramelized nuts, served with fresh fruit from the farmers market is the perfect dessert.
Biscuits for strawberry shortcake, baked as the sun is coming up, appear in the afternoon, cut in half and topped with fresh strawberries and whipped cream.
In fall and winter, bacon sautéed chicken with vegetables is perfect to drive away the cold or pork belly roasted with Vietnamese style vegetables and cooked overnight in a 225 F degree oven. The tender, ginger flavored meat adds spice to a simple tossed pasta.
Cooking early in the morning frees the rest of the day to relax, go for a walk and read the Sunday newspaper. Then when it's time to eat, the food is ready and you are a guest at your own table.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Alaskan Halibut in a Roasted Tomato-Spinach-Shiitake Mushroom Sauté

When the Deadliest Catch first aired, I watched with morbid curiosity as the crews manhandled heavy metal cages. Those cages sometimes swung wildly in the air, smashing against the ship's bulkhead, threatening to hospitalize crew members.

Many times, risking life and limb did not have the hoped for payoff when the cages contained the ocean's odds and ends rather than the prized catch of Alaskan king crab.

When luck was with them, a cage would be filled with crabs, their pointed, armored legs poking out at any hand that risked a close encounter.

After that, when I ordered a crab cocktail I had newfound respect for my food. The crab meat might be delicate and sweet, but the effort it took to snatch it from the icy, turbulent ocean was marked by sweat, fear and danger.

On so many levels, when I am cooking or about to eat, I am happy to be ignorant of the difficult work it takes to get the food from ocean or farm to my table.

Recently, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute made it easy for me. They offered to send a box of Alaska seafood for me to prepare and write about.

Certainly I had bought, cooked and eaten Alaskan seafood before because it is available from local purveyors big (Ralphs and Gelson's) and small (Malibu Seafood).
From the extensive seafood available in Alaskan waters, I was offered king crab (how could I refuse!), halibut, cod, salmon and scallops. When the samples arrived, I happily opened the super-sized box to find the two pound vacuum packed packages of seafood perfectly chilled by dry ice and freezer packs.

I began my Alaskan adventure with the halibut.
Halibut with Roasted Tomato Sauce, Spinach and Shiitake Mushrooms

A thick filet can be cut into smaller pieces or prepared whole, which in this instance, meant a piece just under two pounds in weight. I liked the idea of cooking the filet whole and then slicing manageable pieces for serving.
A key ingredient is the roasted tomato sauce. You can certainly buy canned sauce, but homemade roasted tomato sauce is wonderfully easy to make, tastes much better than any commercial version and can be prepared and refrigerated several days in advance or frozen weeks or even months before using.

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 pounds halibut filet
1 bunch spinach, roots removed, washed to remove grit
4 large ripe tomatoes, washed, stems removed
2 garlic cloves, washed, ends and skins removed, finely chopped
6 shallots or 1 medium yellow onion, washed, ends trimmed and skins removed, roughly chopped
1/4 pound or 6-8 shiitake mushrooms, stems trimmed, washed and pat dried, roughly chopped or thin sliced
1 tablespoon sweet butter
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 F degrees. Place the tomatoes on a baking tray lined with a nonstick Silpat sheet, parchment paper or aluminum foil.  Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Season with sea salt and pepper. Bake 1 hour. Remove and let cool.
The liquid in the bottom of the baking tray is a combination of seasoned olive oil and a clear liquid given off by tomatoes when they cook. Set up a food mill or a fine mesh stainer over a non-reactive bowl.  Pour the olive oil-tomato liquid into the food mill/strainer and add the cooked tomatoes.

Press the tomatoes through the mill/strainer, using a rubber spatula to collect all of the pulp on the bottom side of the mill/strainer.  Discard the seeds and skin or use with other ingredients to make a delicious vegetable stock.

Place the roasted tomato sauce aside in a sealed container. If not used immediately, refrigerate up to several days or freeze.

Defrost, wash and pat dry the halibut and set aside.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a large frying pan. Season with sea salt and pepper.

Many people discard spinach stems. I prefer to use them. Finely chop the stems and sauté until lightly browned. Add the shiitake mushrooms, onions and garlic and sauté until softened. Roughly chop the spinach leaves and add to the frying pan.

Once the leaves have begun to wilt, add the roasted tomato sauce (between 1 and 1 1/2 cups) and sweet butter. Simmer for ten minutes. Taste and adjust with sea salt and pepper as needed.

The halibut filet can be grilled on a barbecue or sautéed in a frying pan with similar results.  If you are using a barbecue, to prevent the fish from sticking, be certain to apply oil to the grill. Pour 1 tablespoon of oil on a paper towel and liberally rub across the grill.

If you are using a frying pan, use 2 tablespoons of olive oil and heat on a medium flame.

Using a large metal spatula to carefully lift the fish without leaving any of the flesh behind, lightly brown the filet on both sides.

Place the halibut on a cutting board and carefully slice the filet into large pieces.  Place on a serving platter and top with the heated vegetable sauté.

Serve with freshly cooked pasta or rice or with fresh baked French bread.

Variations

Along with the vegetables, sauté one piece of bacon, finely chopped, until lightly browned.

For a Spanish style flavor, season the vegetable sauté with 1/2 teaspoon paprika.

For heat, season the vegetable sauté with 1/4 teaspoon cayenne.



Wednesday, September 12, 2012

When It's Too Hot to Cook, Omelets are a Cook's Best Friend

My mother used to say that omelets weren't just for the morning. She turned a breakfast favorite into an entree by putting sautéed savories into the fillings that added unexpected flavor.
For Zester Daily, I wrote about some favorite ways to make omelets that are as good for lunch and dinner as for breakfast.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Food Blogging - (Almost) 100 Recipes


The other day I wrote about attending a Los Angeles Food Bloggers gathering. On my blog, Men Who Like to Cook, you can see the almost 100 recipes contributed by group members.

For some reason subscribers who received an email copy of the article did not see the recipes.
For those of you who didn't have the opportunity to check out the recipes. Here is the link.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Food Blogging is More Fun with Friends

Generally speaking, I'm not a joiner.

It's not that I'm a loner--well, maybe, a little bit--but I'm not a joiner of clubs, groups or social circles. I belong to the Modern Language Association--the MLA--because a long time ago I was an English professor with a specialty in 17th Century English Literature. I belong to the Writers Guild of America, West--the WGA--because I write for television. And that's about it.

In August I met with Food Bloggers, Los Angeles---the FBLA. A dozen of the group gathered to share recipes and talk about blogging. They were nice enough to invite me to join them.
Since this was the end of summer, the topic was tomatoes and zucchini, two summer vegetables (yes, I know tomatoes are a fruit) that are available in great abundance.
I contributed a pasta with roasted tomato sauce and grilled corn and Vietnamese style pickled zucchini, cabbage, carrots and onions.
What people brought to the gathering covered a meal from soup to nuts, as my grandmother would say.
Tomatoes and zucchini found themselves turned into soups, appetizers, casseroles and desserts.

Coming to a food writers' gathering has so many benefits, not the least of which you get to enjoy what other people like to cook.
Everyone at the gathering had a dish to share and a camera. We not only ate one another's dishes, we photographed them as well.

I don't believe I had ever met another food blogger. What fun to meet in the group and talk about issues only a blogger would love.

Topics like which was better Word Press or Blogger?

What are the work arounds when Blogger won't post your photographs?

What are your reasons for blogging?

How can you expand the number of readers who see your blog?

FBLA meets once a month. The meetings have a theme or topic. Food is always shared, I'm told, along with information of interest to the group.

I'm looking forward to joining them again.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Summertime Open Faced BLT

Summertime is the best of times and the worst of times.

When it's hot and humid, nothing makes me happy except air conditioning. But all that heat is good for the garden and summertime tomatoes benefit from all that sun.
Luckily we have neighbors who generously share the beautiful tomatoes that grow in their garden.

A BLT is my favorite way to enjoy tomatoes.

Acidic-sweet tomato slices cozy up to crisp, salty bacon, crunchy lettuce leaves and the comfort of bread in the most satisfying of experiences.

When the rain beats against the dining room windows and the temperature hovers in the mid-40s, a wintertime BLT with hot house tomatoes on slices of a good wheat berry bread with a touch of Best Foods mayonnaise and a bowl of hot vegetable soup satisfies in a good way.

Summertime is something else altogether. First off, I don't want all that bread. In summertime, I want light and cool, not heft.

Open faced sandwiches are perfect for hot weather and an open faced BLT with a slice of avocado is refreshingly delicious. Add a tall glass of iced tea or icy homemade lemonade and you have all you'll need for a refreshing summertime meal.
Open Face BLT with Avocado

Use any kind of bread you love. Personally I prefer thin sliced French or Italian bread for my open faced sandwiches. Depending on the size of the loaf, you will need two to six slices per person.

My favorite bread for a BLT is the Italian bread from Bay Cities Deli in Santa Monica. Light with a thin crust, the bread perfectly compliments the sandwich's toppings.

To keep its shape, the slices should be lightly toasted.

Serves 4

Time 30 minutes

Ingredients

8-24 slices of bread, lightly toasted
8-10 slices of bacon
2 ripe avocados, washed
4 ripe large tomatoes, washed, stem and blossom end removed
8 romaine leaves, ribs removed, or a handful of arugula leaves without the stems, washed, dried
8-16 slices of bread and butter pickles (optional)
Sea salt and black pepper
Mayonnaise

Directions

Set the lightly toasted slices of bread aside to cool.

In batches, cook the bacon in a large frying pan or griddle on a medium-low flame. Turn the slices frequently for even browning, being careful to cook through all the fatty pieces. Place paper towels on a plate. When each bacon strip is cooked, lay it on the paper towel to drain.

While cooking, pour off excess grease into a coffee tin for later disposal.

Cut the cooked bacon pieces so they are the same length as the toasted bread slices.

Depending on your preference, make thin or thick slices of tomatoes and set aside.

When you are ready to assemble the sandwiches, cut the avocados in half, remove the peel and discard the pit. Since the avocado flesh will discolor once it is exposed to the air, do this last step just before serving.

Spread mayonnaise on each slice of lightly toasted bread, place avocado slices on the bread, covering the surface. Lay romaine or arugula leaves on the bacon. Add a slice of tomato, pickle slices (optional) and lastly the bacon slices. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Serve with an ice cold beverage, a tossed salad and fresh fruit for dessert.

Variations

Lightly dust the avocado with cayenne for heat.

Instead of lettuce or arugula use watercress leaves for a peppery flavor.

Toss the avocado slices in a mix of 2 parts olive oil and 1 part fresh lemon juice before placing on the sandwich.

To make an open-faced melted cheese sandwich, lay thin slices of Irish or English cheddar cheese on top of the sandwich, place in a preheated, 350 degree toaster oven for 5 minutes to melt the cheese, 1 minute in a toaster oven set on broil and cook until the top of the cheese lightly browns. Serve warm.


Friday, July 27, 2012

Garlic Sautéed Yellow Squash and Carrots

In summers past, I grew yellow squash with great success. The plants spread to every inch of the garden, threatening to overwhelm tomato plants, the herb garden and a small patch of arugula.
After the vines firmly established themselves, the long, fat squash seemed to appear overnight. What to do with all those squash?

A neighbor saved the day. She loved squash blossoms. She would nip the problem in the bud, so to speak, by picking blossoms before the squash could appear.

Ultimately our best solution was avoidance. We stopped planting squash. Problem solved.

But I missed squash's pleasant crunch and clean flavor. Last week we were gifted with a basket of zucchini and yellow squash from our next-door neighbor's front yard garden. Picked while they were young, before they became watery, the zucchini and squash were unblemished, firm and the picture of health.

There were a great number of ways to prepare such perfect specimens. They could be steamed, grilled or even eaten raw in thin slices or grated. Because I had a beautiful bone in ribeye steak, I decided to sauté them with garlic to use as a side dish.

Sautéing would caramelize and bring out their hidden sweetness. Combined with carrot rounds, the color and texture contrast would add to the pleasures of the dish.

Steak never had such a pleasant companion.

Garlic Sautéed Squash and Carrot Rounds


Time: 30 minutes.

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients


4 medium sized yellow squash, washed, ends trimmed, cut into 1/4" thick rounds
4 medium sized carrots, washed, peeled, ends trimmed, cut into 1/4" thick rounds
1 small yellow onion, skins and root end removed, washed, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, skins and root ends removed, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon sweet butter
Sea salt and black pepper

Directions


Heat a large frying or chef's plan with olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and pepper.  Add onions and garlic. Sauté until lightly browned. Add yellow squash and carrots. Sauté until lightly browned. Finish with sweet butter.

Taste and adjust seasoning with sea salt and pepper. Serve hot.

Variations


Dust with 1/4 teaspoon cayenne for heat.

With the carrots and squash, add 1/2 cut washed, trimmed green beans, cut into 1/2" long pieces.

With the onions and garlic, add 1 tablespoon washed, trimmed shiitake mushrooms, roughly chopped.

Once all the vegetables are cooked, add 2 cups cooked pasta, toss, dust with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and serve as a side or main dish.

Brighten Up a Summer Corn Salad with Mexican Elote Spices

With an abundance of corn this summer, I've been grilling and salt-boiling corn on the cob. Seasoned with sea salt and black pepper...